Oh my, it’s time for Pi…

I love to bak epies but my most popular is one, though, is not pictured here - its my infamous chocolate pecan pie - Yum!

I love to bake pies but my most popular is one, though, is not pictured here – its my infamous chocolate pecan pie – Yum!

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgIt’s March 14, 2014 and while many of you may think that this is just the day before St. Patty’s day, others with a slightly more mathematical mind will get that its 3.14 or Pi(e) Day!

Wish I had come up with the pun, but I must give credit where credit it due – Jessica’s Biscuit, a cookbook lovers’ website, just sent out their weekly Biscuit Buzz email with the pun in place to promote baking cookbooks.

I just thought I would jump on in, and take advantage of the theme to bring you my most popular pie recipe ever – my infamous Chocolate Pecan Pie.

Make it work for St. Patty’s by adding some Irish Whiskey in place of the vanilla and a tablespoon or two of the milk.

Delicious Black Onyx cocoa powder and sugar from the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd in Charlotte NC

Delicious Black Onyx cocoa powder and sugar from the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd in Charlotte NC

Of course, I shop for  cocoa at Charlotte’s Savory Spice Shop, SouthEnd.

While they have several cocoa choices, I always land on the most chocolatey one – the Black Onyx Cocoa – for this particular recipe.  When you are picking up the cocoa, also look for Savory Spice Shop’s Black Onyx sugar, and if the  luck of the Irish is with you, they will also have their Black Onyx sugar cubes in stock.

Serve theses scumptuous sugar cups to sweeten up that  cup of Irish coffee you plan to serve with your first slice of pie – delish!

Local eggs from anyone of Charlotte’s farmers’ markets, organic sugar and milk and local pecans ( you can order local pecans, in season, from High Rock Farms in Gibsonville NC ) make this Pi, practically perfect.

These two loved the Vodka pie crust when they attended my Apple of Your Pie cooking class earlier this year

These two loved the Vodka pie crust when they attended my Apple of Your Pie cooking class earlier this year

Speaking of perfect – if making your own pie crust has only brought you frustrations in the past, then toss all of your other recipes away and try this foolproof ( it really is) vodka pie crust recipes I took from the page of Cooks Illustrated Magazine some years ago. Still giving credit where credit is due, it really is the best pie crust I have ever made and I thank Cooks for doing the research.

The vodka apparently has a better chemical reaction with the butter and flour than does water and creates a lighter flakier crust. Honestly I have never wondered much about why it works – I am just happy that it does and to tell you the truth , its fun to cook with spirits.

TOPO distilleries in Chapel Hill NC makes local 100% organic vodka, gin and whiskey

TOPO distilleries in Chapel Hill NC make local 100% organic vodka, gin and whiskey

In the “spirit” of keeping things local and organic I have opted for TOPO Vodka here – NC’s own 100% organic vodka made in Chapel Hill – great stuff, available at all NC and some SC liquor stores – do give it a try.  While you are trying you will also want to pick up a bottle of the TOPO gin as well -delish and the perfect addition to a spring or summer time Italian Negroni or all American gin and tonic.

Liquor aside and back to pie, for my gluten free friends I have also included a delicious gluten free crust recipe here -give it a try and let me know what you think – no one – gluten free or not, should ever have to do without a slice of Pi!
Cheers!

CHOCOLATE PECAN PIE TART
Recipe by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto
hlnc@carolina.rr.com

3 cups organic sugar
pinch salt
7 Tbsps. Your favorite cocoa from the Savory Spice Shop
4 local eggs
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1 ½ cups organic milk
1 stick butter, melted
2-3 cups local pecan halves (be generous)
Dough for two pies fitted into two 10-inch French tart pans with removable bottoms

Carefully fit the dough into each of the French tart pans, trimming edges to fit. Place each on a baking sheet. Mix sugar, salt, and cocoa together. Whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and milk; stir into the dry ingredients. Add melted butter and stir until well blended. Fill each pie shell two – thirds full with pecan halves.
Pour filling over the pecans. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 to 45 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. If you are taking your tart to-go, transport them in the pans and then removed on site for easy serving. Top with freshly whipped cream or ice cream if you would like.
Makes 2 pies.

Foolproof Pie Dough
Shared by Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto
hlnc@carolina.rr.com
Originally from Cooks Illustrated, November 2007
Makes enough for one 9-inch double-crust pie

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached organic all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. organic sugar
12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water
Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds .
Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.
Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

Heidi’s Gluten Free Brazil Nut Pie Crust                                                                                                                                                 

Recipe Adapted By Charlotte Culinary Expert, Heidi Billotto                                                                                                     Hlnc@carolina.rr.com

4 1/2 cups (630 g) high-quality all-purpose gluten-free flour ( I like the all purpose gluten free flour at Trader Joes very much)

4 tsps. xanthan gum

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

20 Tbsp.  unsalted butter, roughly chopped and kept cold

4 ounces grated Brazil nuts, finely grated

1 cup to 1 1/4 cups cold water, iced (ice cubes do not count in volume measurement)

Egg wash (1 egg yolk + 2 tablespoons cream, whisked to combine)

Into the bowl of your food processor fitted with the steel blade (or a large bowl, if you don’t have a food processor), place the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder, salt, and grated Brazil nuts, and pulse a few times until well-combined (or whisk if not using the machine). Add the chopped and chilled butter, and pulse until the chunks of butter are a bit smaller and are covered in the dry mixture.

Add 1/2 cup ice water to the mixture a bit at a time. If using a food processor, pulse repeatedly while dribbling in the ice water very slowly. After you have added this first 1/2 cup ice water, pulse a few more times to see if the mixture is beginning to come together in the food processor. If not, dribble in more water by the scant tablespoon and pulse. Stop adding water the moment the mixture begins to come together.

Dump the dough out onto a large sheet of plastic wrap, enclose and place in the freezer until firm, about 30 minutes. If you are not planning to use the dough right away, but will use it within a few days, transfer the wrapped dough to the refrigerator, where it can keep for a few days. If you don’t plan to use the dough for more than a few days, freeze until solid and defrost in the refrigerator overnight before using.

For more information about the Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd in Charlotte visit https://www.facebook.com/pages/Savory-Spice-Shop-Charlotte-South-EndDilworth/136994393059682 - Take in you old bottles of commercial herbs and spices from now till April 15 and take advantage of the Cash in Your Cupboard Event where the shop will pay you to bring in your old dried herbs spices and buy new ones!

For more information about TOPO spirits – visit http://www.topodistillery.com/

For more information about Local NC pecans and chestnuts, in season, visit http://www.high-rock-farm.org/

Heidi Billotto’s Nibbles and Sips – March 2014

HEIDI BILLOTTO FOODLots of worthwhile Nibbles and Sips in the Queen City for early March.  Pick and choose or  enjoy them all!

Artisan Olive oils and vinegars, Italian eats, oysters on the half shell,  green beer, crawfish, handmade matzah and goat cheese – this week its quite an eclectic mix!

Thursday March 13  – For the Love of Oil and Other Good Things, don’t miss this tasty event

Pour olive LOGOPour Olive Presents an Evening Tasting Artisanal Italian Foods by Zia Pia  

Thursday ,March 13      6-8pm
Join my good friends at Pour Olive with Victoria and Riccardo of Zia Pia Imports as they sample a choice selection of Zia Pia’s specialty artisanal Italian foods. Experience the unforgettable, inimitable, authentic flavors of Italy’s regional food traditions — pates, pestos and preserves from Sicily, organic tomatoes from Puglia, organic chocolates made in the Modica tradition and gianduja chocolate from Piedmont — while learning about Italy’s regional food traditions. Discover the pleasures of artisanal Italy with Zia Pia imports and Pour Olive at this first time, joint-sponsored event! Word is they have wonderful wines to sip along with these artisanal foods, and as always plenty of Extra Virgin Olive Oils and Balsamics to sample and buy. Call for more information – 980.207.1510   Pour Olive is located at 1528 East Blvd. , Charlotte, NC, 28203  – additional parking lot in back of the building.

On the Half Shell -

I ate my weight n fresh caught oysters while Tom and I were  in the Florida panhandle last year - This year all we have to do is go to Upstream!

I ate my weight n fresh caught oysters while Tom and I were in the Florida panhandle last year – This year all we have to do is go to Upstream!

Upstream is located in Charlotte’s Southpark area at 6902 Phillips Pl., at the Phillips Place shopping area.

Upstream is located in Charlotte’s Southpark area at 6902 Phillips Pl., at the Phillips Place shopping area.

Yum! If you are a mollusk lover like me then run, don’t walk  to Upstream Seafood restaurant this month! From now till the end of the month of March , the popular SouthPark restaurant located in Phillips Place is cracking open a remarkable deal on oysters!

Get this – Monday through Thursday, 4pm-6:30pm in the Upstream Bar, you can eat all the East Coast oysters on the half-shell you want for just $1 each PLUS all the West Coast oysters you want for just $1.50 each.   In addition to the oyster special, Upstream’s bar will also feature daily drink specials and have their Bar Bites menu available.

Upstream is located in Charlotte’s Southpark area at 6902 Phillips Place, at the Phillips Place shopping area. Hours of operations: Mon-Thurs 11:30am -10:00pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-11pm; Sunday 10:30am-10pm; Sunday Brunch 10:30am-2:30pm. Reservations are accepted at 704.556.7730.

Visit online at http://www.upstreamseafood.com. Upstream on Urbanspoon

Seeing Green -

green river eventJoin in on the St. Patty’s day fun for the 4th annual Green River Revival,  Saturday, March 15 at the US White Water Center. The celebration will kick off with the Color Me Green 5K, a trail race similar to the Color Run, but of course, the color of the day is green. Following the race, watch as the whitewater rapids turn bright green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, followed by live music, and lots of food and drink. The river, dyed for the day in emerald green,  will remain open to those eager to raft or kayak the green waters.

For info visit http://usnwc.org/green-river-revival-2/

 

For Mardis Gras stop by and Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler at e2 Emeril’s Eatery in Uptown Charlotte

CHef Brian Mottola, executive chef at e2 Emeril's Eatery in Charlote NC

Chef Brian Mottola, executive chef at e2 Emeril’s Eatery in Charlote NC

My friends at e2 emeril’s eatery always offers a taste of New Orleans in uptown Charlotte. But the vibe is never more authentic than in the spring when e2 hosts a New Orleans Crawfish Boil on the patio each Friday. The popular tradition that began last spring returns this Friday, March 14 from 4:30-7 p.m. and, the best part it that because Charlotteans love to celebrate,   we can do it all over again  each Friday this month, weather permitting, until May 30.

e2 Eerils Eatery Pastry chef, Stephanie Nikolic

e2 Emerils Eatery Pastry chef, Stephanie Nikolic

A peel-your-own crawfish boil is truly a food experience that brings people together. Louisiana crawfish are served fresh out of the pot, with corn, mushrooms and Andouille sausage as co-stars. Abita beer is available on draft for $5 and Budweiser and Bud Lite bottles are $4. The cost is $15 per person for an all-you-care-to-eat al fresco feast.

Its all happening at e2 emeril’s eatery 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts, Suite 100 Charlotte, NC 28202 Complimentary Valet Parking for Dinner.    e2 emeril’s eatery, conveniently located at 135 Levine Avenue of the Arts in Uptown Charlotte, offers complimentary valet parking for dinner Monday-Saturday beginning at 5 p.m. Dinner is served Monday to Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. and until 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 

For more information on e2 emeril’s eatery, please visit www.emerilsrestaurants.com/e2-emerils-eatery  E2 Emeril's Eatery on Urbanspoon

Planning for Passover -

Every piece of the wood-fired Vermatzah is made by hand in small batches.

Every piece of the wood-fired Vermatzah is made by hand in small batches.

I discovered this artisan-made from ancient grains, organic Matzah last year, right before the Passover holiday – when I wrote to order, they had already sold out – so  I signed up for the company’s email list and sure enough, last week got an email reminding me that is was time to place my order for this year’s holiday.

This is handmade, wood-fired Artisan Matzah for Passover baked with a blend of organic Vermont wheat and Emmer, an ancient grain used in the original matzah baked thousands of years ago.
vermatzha 2Naga Bakehouse is a small, family run wood-fired bakery in Middletown Springs, Vermont.  They’ve been baking Vermatzah since 2009.  Every piece of wood-fired matzah is still made by hand in small batches. Like so many locavores, these bakers strive to re-connect the food we eat with the story of where it comes from by growing many of our own ingredients and sourcing the rest from local farms. What’s not to love?
My Matzah order should be here soon and I can’t wait to taste it –  I was going to wait  to write about the product, but I don’t want you to miss out on a chance to order – so check it out now - you may read all about it  on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/vermatzah or for more info and to place a Vermatzah order visit, http://www.vermatzah.com  
On your Bucket List
You're gonna love Heidi's On the Farm class at Bosky Acres Dairy

You’re gonna love Heidi’s On the Farm class at Bosky Acres Dairy

For those of you who have always wanted to know how,  I invite you to join in on the fun at my upcoming  On the Farm cooking class at Bosky Acres Dairy and Learn to Milk a Dairy Goat!

The next class in my unique On the Farm series will take place at Bosky Acres Farm in Waxhaw NC.  Dairy owner and artisan goat cheesemaker Michelle lamb will not only introduce us to the goats, the kids and her way of  locl farm life, but she’ll share the secrets to making her wonderful Bosky Acres goat cheese and each class participant will have the opportunity to learn to milk a dairy goat as well – talk about photo opts!
bosky acres baby goatsDuring the down and rest time during  the  cheesemaking process, I’ll be there using Michelle’s wonderful cheese is four different dishes,  sharing hearty samples and recipes too…and did I mention that Josh Villapando from the Assorted Table Wine Shop will join in on the fun with wine pairings for each dish -  its going to be great fun – Make your reservations now by simply emailing me at HLNC@carolina.rr.com . Cost is $75 per person. Attendees must be at least 16 years  of age.

Weekend One of Charlotte’s 2014 Spring Show Cooking Stage: Recap & Recipes

cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgIt is, each and every year, my great pleasure to coordinate the chefs and host the culinary action on the Southern Shows Spring Home and Garden Show cooking stage in late February and then again I do the same in August for the Southern Shows Ideal Home show.
This year the spring show ran two consecutive weekends in a row and with nearly 60 different chefs, sous chefs, foodies and farmers making appearances on stage, every hour on the hour, the action was hot!

With so many different chefs I made the decision to make the stage “paperless” this year – so aside from coupons, business cards and menus for the crowd to pick up and share, there were no printed recipes.

bannerInstead of all the paper,  my good friends at Charlotte Living magazine have created a Southern Spring Home & Garden cooking stage landing page where readers will find an index of all the participating chefs, links to their printed recipes and further links to restaurant, chef, farm and shop websites. the link to the recipe index from the first weekend is at the end of this post; recipes for the second weekend will be up next week and I’ll soon write a recap blog post for that as well –  but first a brief recap of the first weekend of fun, food and flavor!

Heidi and Tom in the Booth  spring show 2-14

Heidi and Tom Billotto in Charlotte NC at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show 2014

As I mentioned, this year, The Southern Spring & Garden show ran Feb 22 – Feb 24 and Feb 28 – Mar 2, While I was at the Cooking Stage, my very talented husband Musician Tom Billotto, was performing instrumental and vocals in the show’s gardens. We sold his CD, Two and A Half Guitars, at the Heidi Billotto & Friends booth directly across from the  cooking stage and then we played it between chefs  –  the crowd seemed to enjoy the blending of food and mood.

If you missed purchasing Tom’s CD for a little food and mood of your own – its available through his website - look for the link at the end of this post.

So what follows is the low down on the line up of first weekend chefs, farmers and foodies that I am proud to call my friends and colleagues as they shared their skills, tips and techniques with the audience. – Thank you every one!

 

Heidi Billotto with Cantina 1511's Vince Giancarlo and Greg Balch

Heidi Billotto with Cantina 1511′s Vince Giancarlo and Greg Balch

Chefs Vince Giancarlo, Kyle Biddy and Greg Balch from Cantina 1511 kicked things off on Feb 21 at 11 am preparing Al Pastor Pork from Cantina’s new spring menu.

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

Al Pastor Pork on a griddle fried corn arapas

This delicious little bite is one you should certainly request when next you eat at either of Cantinas two locations – the big news is that the East Blvd. location will soon be moving to Park Road Shopping Center – stay tuned on these blog pages and on my Facebook page for details as they happen.

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Paul Verica and his son Alex from Heritage Food and Drink

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

Baby bacon Doughnuts from chefs Paul and Alex Verica

As it turned out it was a pork-centric beginning to the day as Chef Paul Verica and his son Alex followed with his version of the story of  “The Three Little Pigs” done Hertitage Food and Drink style with Maple Glazed Pork Belly, Pulled pork with old school biscuits and  Bacon Doughnuts, oh my!

A big supporter of local farmers and farmers markets, Paul has spent the last 20 years developing his personal style of New American Cuisine, and  the opening of Heritage Food & Drink in downtown Waxhaw NC  the culmination of years of hard work and dedication – like all the restaurants featured in this post Heritage is well worth your consideration next time you plan to enjoy dinner out!

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Heidi with Chef Bill Bigham

Then the day on the stage took a turn toward poultry with Private chef Chef Bill Bigham who shared his quick and easy recipe for Mojito Chicken.

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Chris Coleman from The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel

Bill was followed by Chef Chris Coleman from The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel, a modern southern restaurant that honors the past, celebrates the seasons, and looks forward serving break fast lunch and dinner 7 days a week. Chris followed the poultry theme  preparing Cured and pan roasted duck with NC peanut Farro Risotto using local duck local peanuts and local farro – Chris is another big believer in the farm to fork concept and the menu at The Asbury reflects this philosophy.

Heidi Billotto with chefs David Moore and Kelly Morrow from The Gallery

Heidi Billotto with chefs David Moore and Kelly Morrow from The Gallery

North Carolina Peanut

North Carolina Peanut

Chef David Moore from The Gallery at Ballantyne Hotel & Lodge was also inspired by all things local and Southern as he too worked with NC peanuts, crafting the legume into a delicious brittle that sported quick a kick as he added South Carolina’s now famous hot sauce, The Grim Reaper, grown and produced by the Puckerbutt Hot Sauce Company in Ft Mill, SC. The Grim reaper chili has recently been classified as the hottest Chili in the world by the fine folks at Guinness who keep all the records!

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Private chef Jill Aker-Ray

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman's cheese shop

Rachel Klebaur from Orrman’s cheese shop

Private chef Jill Aker Ray lightened things up a bit with her easy Primavera sauce and I followed with Rachel Klebaur of Orrman’s Cheese Shop, making my recipes for Local Bosky Acres goat cheese fondue and beer cheese stuffed jalapenos.

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Greg and Subrina Collier from The Yolk in Rock Hill

Later, I took the stage once more to share perfect pairings of Pour Olive ultra premium extra virgin olive oils and artisan Balsamic vinegars and then Chef Greg Collier put a cap on the evening as he entertained the crowd while he prepared a twist on a breakfast classic – steel cut oats. Instead of making a sweet oatmeal, Greg transformed the oats into a melt in your mouth mushroom risotto – what a way to end our first day and one reason you should definitely check out the breakfast menus at The Yolk located in Rock Hill, SC!
 

 

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes form Mimosa Grill

Heidi with DJ Ivey and Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill

The action Continue at a fever pitch on Saturday, Feb 22 with appearances by four of Charlotte’s top restaurant chefs one right after the other:

Carpe Diem's Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Carpe Diem’s Chef Paul Ketterhagen with his biggest fan

Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem, a fine dining restaurant and catering company
located at 1535 Elizabeth Avenue  in Charlotte delighted show goers with recipes for  a springtime farro salad with a duo of vinaigrettes – look for creative dishes like this one on the carpe diem springtime menu

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen

Then Chef Sam Stachon from The Kings Kitchen a not for profit restaurant in Uptown , with a mission  to help and feed our city’s hungry and homeless, brought it all back home with his melt in your mouth biscuits and sasauge gravy. Kings Kitchen is now open for breakfast and these biscuits are featured on the breakfast and lunch menus.

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Chef Tim Groody from Fork! in Cornelius

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Smoked pork potstickers by Chef Tim Groody

Show goers were ready for more as Chef Tim Groody from Fork Restaurant  on Main Street in Cornelius, a farms to fork restaurant supporting dozens of local farms in the Carolinas, put an international spin on a bevy of local ingredients to make his tasty smoked local pork pot stickers!

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Creole stuffed hushpuppies by chef Jon Fortes of Mimosa Grill

Chef Jonathan Fortes, winner of the 2013 Fire in the City Competition dining series,  and his team from Mimosa Grill located in Uptown Charlotte, wowed show goers with his  creole stuffed hushpuppies - the crowd, quit literally, ate it all up.

Nada Vergili of Nada's Italy

Nada Vergili of Nada’s Italy

a beautiful presentation of homemade Boursin cheese by chef Jill Aker Ray

a beautiful presentation of homemade Boursin cheese by chef Jill Aker Ray

I made real Italian biscotti while Italian travel expert Nada Vergili  expounded on all that is wonderful about traveling in Italy; while private chef Jill Aker-Ray stepped up for  the first of  three separate time slots on stage over the course of the show  sharing her recipes for  primavera sauce, boursin cheese and southern pesto.

On Sunday Feb 23 – The crew from the Papi Queso Food Truck was unable to attend as scheduled, so I stepped in sharing a few tips I’ve learned from Papi Queso and others on making superlative grilled cheese sandwiches  -the big trick is to use real mayo instead of butter on the bread for a truly golden and crispy finish ( the brand is your call but my go-to is Carolinas-made Dukes) - other than that, use interesting breads and fill with your favorite combinations of cheese, fruits, meats and veggies and you’re good to grill!

Heidi Billotto with Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz -Carlton in Charlotte

Heidi Billotto with Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz -Carlton in Charlotte

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

Profiteroles with foie gras filling from Chef Nathan Volz

I was followed on stage  by a new, very talented, chef in town. So glad to have Nathan Volz, executive sous chef at Charlotte’s Ritz Carlton join us on stage.  Nathan’s “taste of the Ritz- Carlton” this day were bite sized pistachio profiteroles filled with a foie gras mousse – ah – what a way to start the day!

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

Heidi Billotto with Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish

After the foie gras, amuse, so to speak, Chef David Lucarelli from The Cowfish, sushi burger bar, gave the crowd a rundown on making the very best burgers and  cheeseburgers and shared recipes for some of his favorite sauces.

Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton with enough fresh picked certified organic spinach  to feed the crowd!

Mary and Ray Roberts-Tarlton with enough fresh picked certified organic spinach to feed the crowd!

Next things took a light turn as Windcrest Farms’ Mary Roberts  joined me on stage to talk about al things organic and to tell guests int he audience how to grow from their own organic gardens.

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach - just beautiful!

Windcrest Organic Farms spinach – just beautiful!

Mary and her husband Ray brought along two huge bags of fresh picked organic spinach which we served to the crowd paired with organic strawberries for a  light spinach salad and then backed with Bosky Acres goat cheese and grated parmigiana reggiana for a rich warm spinach soufflé. We also sautéed this wonderful seasonal green with organic chick peas and tomatoes to create a tasty simply side dish as well. 

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Heidi Billotto and chef Ben Philpott

Inspired by Ben's mustard recipe I went home and made my own local mustard! - seeds soaking here....

Inspired by Ben’s mustard recipe I went home and made my own local mustard! – seeds soaking here….

That afternoon  I welcomed Chef Ben Philpott from Block and Grinder to the stage . At Block & Grinder, Ben makes delicious charcuterie and so he brought some of his duck ham to share with the cooking stage crowd and then he made a homemade mustard to go with. Keeping true to the philosophy that the show must go on, Ben persevered through an explosion of his blender and the fact that the fire alarm in the building went off in the middle of his demo.  After the all clear, we all realized that sometimes you just have to laugh and keep moving on.

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Scott MacCabe from the Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

Heidi with Scott and Amy from Savory Spice Shop Southend

The weekend ended with a presentation from Amy and Scott McCabe from The Savory Spice Shop SouthEnd  – my go -to place for all spices and herbs sweet and savory. Scott cooked up a rigatoni pasta dish while Amy handed spice samples out to the crowd – the perfect cap off for the evening and the first weekend of the show..

For all the recipes from this talented line up of first weekend of chefs at the cooking stage at the Southern Spring & Garden Show in Charlotte click on over to http://charlottelivingmagazine.com/spring_show_2014/Spring_Show_Recipes.pdf

Each of the recipes on the Charlotte Living site offer links to the chef restaurants and websites… recipes from the second weekend of chefs will be up and online mid March 2014. 

Meanwhile, for more information about any of our first weekend chefs  – just follow these links to get to their respective websites ….

For more information on me, Heidi Billotto and my cooking classes – friend me on Facebook at Heidi Billotto or follow me on Twitter at @heidicooks  and follow this blog and all the details will come to you as I post…

 

February Nibbles and Sips

A quick post as we say goodbye to February and head into March of 2014, my way of sharing a taste or two of several of my favorite Nibbles and Sips  for your consideration, all making news in and around Charlotte, North Carolina 

NC's own soft drink, Cheerwine, marries Cackalacky,  NC's favorite sweet potato condiment to make a sweet hot sauce you are sure to love

NC’s own soft drink, Cheerwine, marries Cackalacky, NC’s favorite sweet potato condiment to make a sweet hot sauce you are sure to love

Its not wacky, its Cackalacky!

The creative and oh so, innovative, Page Skelton, creator of the Cackalacky brand,  first crafted his original zesty, award-winning Cackalacky condiment, dip, and topping from North Carolina-grown sweet potatoes and began to market it ten years ago. The  “famously original” Cacklacky Spice Sauce debuted in 2003.

In 2013, Skelton decided to give his zesty Cackalacky a softer side and so conceptualized a sweet version of his popular sauce.   It was important to Page to continue to keep his product all local.  “I wanted to keep it local and looked for a sweet North Carolina-made product to add to my original sauce – Cheerwine came to mind, and it was a no brainer from there,” Skelton explained.     Brad Porter of  Salisbury NC- based Cheerwine told me that, “It just seemed like a good idea that would really work.”

And work it has! The sweeter Cackalacky sauce has proven to be every bit as popular as the original brand and now starting Friday Feb 28, the sweet hot sauce that has taken North Carolina by storm will be available in the Charlotte market at Costco Wholesale in Charlotte. On Friday, Feb. 28 at 500 Tyvola
Road, Charlotte NC, shoppers can sample the product during regular business hours all weekend  through March 2. The introduction of the North Carolina-born condiment in Charlotte is a part of a statewide rollout of the new
condiment to all Costco locations throughout North Carolina.

Don’t live in North Carolina? Don’t worry – you can order all the wonderful Cackalacky products plus lots of fun Cackalacky swag, online at www.cackalacky.com

…And the new restaurants just keep on coming – French, Farm to Fork and Fahrenheit – just to name a few -

Charlotte is on a roll with new excellent chef -driven restaurants opening at every turn. For March, on your list of must tries must be…

lumiereLumiere French Kitchen -is the newest  culinary adventure by  Chef Tom Condron and Matthew Pera. These two long time Charlotte culinarians, owners of the very successful gastropub, The Liberty on South Blvd, have taken dining out in Charlotte up a notch.  Lumiere French Kitchen is located in the heart of Myers Park in Charlotte, NC at 1039 Providence Rd and brings modern French cuisine to the Queen City. Lumiere is open Tues-Sat from 5-10 for dinner. Reservations by calling 704.372.3335 or visit http://lumieremyerspark.com/ Lumiere on Urbanspoon

For more casual gastropub dining, with award winning, chef-driven American cuisine, a fabulous selection of beers  and more than 2 dozen wines by the glass. Turn to Lumiere’s sister restaurant, The Liberty, Charlotte’s first Gastropub,  1812 South Blvd, in Charlotte, NC; 704.332.8830. Open for Lunch and dinner and late night, too. For more information visit http://thelibertycharlotte.com/ The Liberty on Urbanspoon

heirloomHeirloom Restaurant – Its Farm to Fork in the Coulwood neighborhood of Charlotte.  Chef Clark Barlowe, a relatively recent graduate of Johnson & Wales with a ton of top notch creds, has a mission to serve hyper local cuisine as the focal point of his new restaurant Heirloom.

On the menu: a of North Carolina-driven theme as Barlow procures local ingredients from across the state. With Barlowe at the helm and  French trained Pastry chef Joselyn Perlmutter on the team – this food writer has high hopes for this  brand new all local spot. Heirloom is located at 8470 Bellhaven Boulevard Charlotte, NC; call 704-595-7710 for reservations or visit http://www.heirloomrestaurantnc.com/ Heirloom Restaurant on Urbanspoon

fahrenheitAnd finally, the much anticipated Fahrenheit Restaurant at SKYE Condominiums in Uptown Charlotte. Owned by Chef Rocco  Whalen, the Queen City sister restaurant to Whalen’s Cleveland, Ohio Fahrenheit will open in Charlotte NC on Monday, March 3  at 4pm.
The restaurant is located at 222 South Caldwell  Street, at the corner of Third and Caldwell  Streets, but you must look up from the entrance of the Hyatt Place Hotel to see Fahrenheit Charlotte, as it is located  on the rooftop of this unique mixed used  development.
The spacious 8,600 square foot restaurant  is beautifully dressed with distressed wood  tables, quartz columns and  ultra modern light  fixtures.  Private dining  facilities are fit with the latest technology, should a private lunch or dinner business meeting feel the need, and allow seating  for up to  60.

A spectacular ceiling mural of the  Fahrenheit logo greets guests as they step off the  elevator onto the 21st floor and glass walls surround the restaurant on all sides. The “walls” off the bar, open up to the roof area patios and herb gardens with 360 degree views of  Charlotte.  Fabulous outdoor linear fire pits  surrounding the restaurant add to the immediate experience of the truly incredible panoramic  view.

Chef Rocco Whalen

Chef Rocco Whalen

Not only is the Fahrenheit layout a must see, but Chef Whalen’s menu is a must try. I was fortunate to have a “First Bite” tasting several weeks ago, when the restaurant space was still under construction and Whalen’s way with flavor and his well-honed skill and technique  are spot on.   The menu focuses on  American regional cuisine, with Mediterranean and delightful unexpected  Asian accents which will keep your taste buds popping.  Whalen incorporates local, seasonal  and sustainable ingredients.  New to Charlotte and continually traveling back and forth from his Cleveland enterprises, Whalen has worked hard to develop relationships with many local North and South  Carolina purveyors.

Fahrenheit  Charlotte will be open daily for dinner and happy  hour beginning at 4pm starting March 3, and will  host many specialty events on location and  throughout the community.  Charlotte diners can look forward to everything from  Food Network Cookbook Dinners, where guests will  receive a signed s  cookbook to unique Food Truck events, featuring specialty recipes, celebrity guests and local food  purveyors. This April restaurant is participating in the  25th Anniversary of Charlotte Wine  & Food Weekend 2014 with a Vintner Dinner,  paired with Bure Family Wines on Thursday, April with the anticipation of everything Fahrenheit would bring to Charlotte,  this event is already a sell out!

For reservations at Fahrenheit call 980-237-6718 or visit http://www.chefroccowhalen.com/fahrenheit-charlotte for more information Fahrenheit on Urbanspoon

home show promo2014 Southern Spring Show Cooking Stage –  Feb 28 -Mar 2 marks the second weekend of the Southern Spring Home and Garden show here in Charlotte at the Park Expo and Conference Center at 2500 East Independence Blvd.

I have had the pleasure of hosting the cooking stage for several years in a row and this year the line up of chefs with me on stage doing back to back cooking demonstrations every hour on the hour has been incredible.

Great fun, you should definitely plan on coming out and spending some time with us at the show this weekend.

This year, No more paper at the Southern Spring Home & Garden Show cooking stage – or at least less paper – we’ve gone digital! This weekend’s cooking stage schedule and recipes from last weekend up online at CharlotteLiving.com! Just click on the photo of yours truly on the Charlotte Living magazine home page at www.CharlotteLiving.com! Links will take you to the complete schedule of chefs for this weekend and at the end of each day, to the recipes these talented chefs presented.

The recipes from the chefs who appeared onstage last weekend – Chef Paul Verica from Heritage Food and Drink, Chef Paul Ketterhagen from Carpe Diem, Chef Tim Groody from Fork!, Chef Jon Fortes from Mimosa Grill, Chef Greg Collier from The Yolk, Chef Ben Philpott from Block &Grinder, Chef Nathan Volz from the Ritz-Carlton, Chef David Moore from the Gallery at Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge and more – are now up and available at CharlotteLiving.com –  Enjoy!

nada class and tom music 001Your Mom’s Donuts update -

Now you can enjoy the wonderful all local donuts I told you about months ago  at several locations around town. These truly  gourmet donuts are made with locally sourced ingredients, including organic, NC grown flour milled at Lindley Mill, grass fed dairy from Homeland creamery, pastured eggs from Bell’s Best Berries, and the donuts are fried in freshly rendered  leaf lard from The Naked Pig!

On  the weekends Your Mom’s Donuts are now a fixture on the breakfast and brunch menus at Chef Chris Coleman’s The Asbury at the Dunhill Hotel and you can also get them on Saturday mornings a the Atherton Mill & market location of Not Just Coffee.

Starting in April, Courtney and Benjamin will also be selling their fresh made donuts every Saturday at the Matthews Community Farmers Market. Need a donut fix during the week? Your Mom’s Donuts delivers !!! You can place your order at yourmomsdonuts@hotmail.com and have them delivered to your door! The minimum  is 1 dozen and the cost is : 1 dozen $24; 2 dozen $45; 3 dozen $60; 4 or more $18/dozen

Let Courtney and Benjamin know by 4:00 the day before you want them as donuts are made every night fresh for delivery! Check out Your Mom’s Donuts Instagram or Twitter feeds – @yourmomsdonuts - for updated pictures and weekly flavors.

A Taste of Honey – Tupelo Honey Cafe gives back to the Charlotte community

Tupel Honey Cafe (Contributed)If you have been looking for an opportunity to try out Charlotte’sTupelo Honey Café NOW is the time. Today and tomorrow Tupelo Honey Café encourages Queen City diners to “Grab a bite and make a difference!”

The beautifully appointed and much anticipated restaurant, Tupelo Honey Cafe, opened its doors in December, and with the delicious food  and great service comes an investment in  the Charlotte community and a great partnership with the YWCA.

Tupelo Honey will bring nutritional education to the YWCA’s Families Together and Women in Transition programs, as well as our after-school and summer programs.

Tupelo’s Charlotte location will donate 20 percent of all restaurant proceeds from Monday, February 17 through Wednesday, February 19 to YWCA Central Carolinas in celebration of the 112th anniversary of the local organization. I encourage you to take advantage of these days, and enjoy a meal at Tupelo Honey’s amazing food….and these next few days its all for a great cause!

Tupelo's Southern Fried Chicken BLT

Tupelo’s Southern Fried Chicken BLT

This celebration will kick off Tupelo Honey’s long-term partnership with the YWCA. Tupelo Honey will routinely support programming for the YWCA’s Families Together, Women in Transition, Youth Afterschool and Youth Summer programs.

Tupelo Honey Café owner, Steve Frabitore

Tupelo Honey Café owner, Steve Frabitore

“The YWCA’s good work in Charlotte is magnified by the fact that they have been here for over a century,” said Tupelo Honey Cafe’s owner, Steve Frabitore. “They serve the community as its needs change, and we are happy to support them in their endeavors.”

“As we celebrate our 112th anniversary this month, we are thankful for a partner like Tupelo Honey and their support of the work we do to empower women and children in our community,” said Kirsten Sikkelee, YWCA Central Carolinas CEO. “We look forward to our ongoing partnership with them, as do our program participants who will get to sample some of Tupelo’s renowned recipes.”

Tupelo's signature Pecan Pie

Tupelo’s signature Pecan Pie

Tupelo Honey will host two community dinners this year for the residents of the Families Together and Women in Transition programs at YWCA’s Park Road location. Cooking demonstrations and educational nutritional programming at four YWCA Youth Learning Centers will also start in the spring of 2014.

Welcome to Charlotte, Tupelo! Love having you in town!

Charlotte’s Tupelo Honey Café is located at 1820 South Boulevard in SouthEnd. Hours are Monday – Thursday 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Friday 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Saturday 8:00 am – 10:00 pm
Sunday 8:00 am – 9:00 pm
The  bar is open until 11:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights.

For more information, menus, recipes, how to order Tupelo Honey Cafe’s cookbook  and more, visit the Cafe’s website at https://tupelohoneycafe.com/ Tupelo Honey Cafe on Urbanspoon

 

Conversation Hearts – A little kiss of everyone’s favorite seasonal sweet


cropped-heidi-cooks-logo.jpgWhether you are planning on saying “Be Mine” or “See Ya” to your sweetie this Valentine’s Day, there’s no easier way to put your thoughts together than through a few Conversation Hearts.  These heart-felt talkative treats are enjoyed by millions of Americans each year.

In fact, Americans have been enjoying the candy we now call Conversation Hearts since the1800s.  Made by several companies, the Sweethearts brand ( my personal favorite) shares a history with another longtime favorite of mine,  the much loved NECCO Wafers. Daniel Chase created the idea for the first conversation hearts in 1866 by devising a machine that would press food dye letters onto the candy lozenges made famous by his brother and NECCO founder Oliver Chase. The Conversation Hearts we know and love today came to be in the early 1900s.

hearts 2Today NECCO manufactures 8 billion Sweethearts year ’round to meet consumer demand. From mid-February to January they produce about 100,000 pounds of the iconic candy hearts each day, which adds up to billions of candy hearts—more than enough for everyone in the world to have one.

Through the years, the sayings on Conversation Hearts have been an edible reflection on how our culture has changed, but it is good to know that some of the original sayings are still in rotation, including “Be Mine,” “Be Good,” “Be True,” “Kiss Me.” In honor of NECCO’s 150th anniversary, the original phrase “The One I Love” also reappeared in the mix. In the early 1990′s, NECCO’s then Vice President Walter Marshall began an initiative to update the sayings each year, retiring some while adding others. The first new phrase, in years was “Fax Me” which met with a bit of controversy from diehard Conversation Heart fans; but now you can find hearts that suggest a would be lover “email me”, “text me” and “tweet me”, too!

ChocolateSweetheartsWhile all Conversation Hearts have been certified Kosher and  gluten free from the beginning, the flavors have made changes with the times.  It all started with the original eight familiar flavors customers found in the company’s Necco wafers: orange, lemon, lime, clove, chocolate, cinnamon, licorice and wintergreen. Now there are just six different flavors of hearts in box.  The ingredients use to make this seasonal snack are sugar, corn syrup, gelatin, gum, colorings and flavoring.  While the classic flavors are mixed and boxed together, the Necco company also produces  separate boxes of chocolate Conversation Hearts, this food writer’s personal favorite, as well.

Here’s how it rolls…

To make this sweet candy confection, the six simple ingredients are blended together into a mixing machine, one color and flavor at a time, until they turn into a soft dough.  The dough is fed into a machine that presses the dough until it is flat, a process called sheeting. The sheeted dough moves on to the cut and stamp station where  the sayings are applied on the dough and  a large machine cuts the dough into 100s of little  hearts. Next, the sheets of cut hearts go into a drying tunnel for about 30 – 45 minutes.

The finished hearts are lightly dusted with cornstarch and moved to a drying area where they cool and harden during a twelve hour resting period. Once the hearts have cooled and dried, the starch is dusted off and flavors are mixed together to provide the assortment we find in each box or bag.

Each year NECCO reports that they receive hundreds of saying suggestions from romantics, candy lovers and school kids, alike. Think you have a good conversation heart phrase to add to the collection?  Sweethearts NECCO is happy to accept suggestions for sayings from their consumers. Each saying can be no longer than two lines of four letters on the small hearts and two lines of six letters on the large motto hearts. You can either e-mail your suggestion to the company via their website at Necco.com,  or mail it to Sweethearts, NECCO, 135 American Legion Highway, Revere, MA 02151.


			

Feeling Romantic? Six Sensational Spots to Dine with Your Valentine

This photo is from the first restaurant segment I did for Charlotte Today in August 2013 - now, happy to say, it has turned into a monthly segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

This photo is from the first restaurant segment I did for Charlotte Today in August 2013 – now, happy to say, it has turned into a monthly segment with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

As many of you know, each month I present a “where to dine” restaurant segment on WCNC’s Charlotte Today program. Every 4-6 weeks the show’s producers and I select a topic or theme  and I choose 5-6 restaurants to chat about on air. As February is the month of hearts and flowers, this month’s challenge was to gather a group of Romantic restaurants to share with Charlotte Today viewers and this Blog’s readers.

There was a time in here in Charlotte  that gathering this many outstanding chef driven restaurants may have been a daunting task, but in 2014 there are lots of wonderful restaurants I could have put on this list – I chose the six that for me ( and my hubby Tom Billotto) have come to be the most romantic. For me, a part of that is that these are all chef-driven establishments, with chefs, sous chefs pastry chefs and line chefs who all cook from their hearts. That love and passion is conveyed in the cuisine, making dining out a true pleasure for the mind, body and soul.

No matter if you are just kindling or trying to respark the fire, Romance doesn’t just happen on Feb 14 – enjoy a romantic dinner any night of the week and know that  these fine dining establishments run wine tastings and dinners, special cooking classes and prix fixe menus at all different times of the year, as do many of Charlotte’s chef-driven and independent restaurants.  I’ve added notes about upcoming February events at each post as well as links to all of the restaurant websites at the end of this article, so start making plans now and plan  to try them all – There was never more wonderful time in the Queen City, with more possibilities  for  delighting in dining aux deux, than now…enjoy!

Behind the scenes: finished plates sit atop a Rubbermaid hand cart until it was time to shoot the restaurant segment

Behind the scenes: finished plates sit atop a Rubbermaid hand cart until it was time to shoot the restaurant segment

To enhance the video and the chat with show hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway, I ask restaurants to prepare a plate that I can pick up and assemble at the studio – its like having something special to share for show and tell.

Many thanks to all the featured restaurants chefs and sous chefs for helping me out with product for the February segment.  I wish I had taken more behind the scene shots this time. Chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs and restaurateurs gave me each component of the dish as well as a hand rendered drawing or quick tutorial at pick up as to how to assemble it all.

through the magic of television, these plates would soon be up and center for their close up

through the magic of television, these plates would soon be up and center for their close up

As this segment was on a Monday morning and most of these restaurants weren’t open on Sunday, chefs came in early Monday morning or prepped things for me late on Saturday night or actually came in on Sunday, to help it all come together.

I can’t tell you how appreciative I am of their extra efforts to help me boast about the quality and high caliber that is now standard in the Charlotte restaurant arena . While these are not the only great restaurants in the Queen City, this group of six is great representation of all Charlotte has to brag about.

All of these restaurants are ranked at the top of lists of kudos, yielding recommendation’s not only from this food writer,  but from the likes of Zagat, AAA’s Four Diamond Awards in North and South Carolina, Open Table, the Wine Spectator, DiArona, The Food Network, AOL restaurant rankings, and more. Check individual websites for all the accolades.

From the set of Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

From the set of Charlotte Today with hosts Colleen Odegaard and Ramona Holloway

To that end, it goes without saying that service, atmosphere and cuisine, too, are all spot on at each and every one of these places;  no such thing as a bad choice here.

Here is my short list of a half dozen of my favorite Romantic restaurants in Charlotte. The video from the Charlotte Today segment follows.

As I mentioned in the video, poet Ogden Nash wrote a little two line verse which said, “Candy is Dandy but Liquor is Quicker!” take those two lines to heart and intertwine a dinner at any one of these restaurants and with a little help from Cupid, you’ll hit a home run for sure…

Bonterra logo

First on my list is Bonterra Dining and Wine Room. This may be the most romantic restaurant here for me because I met my husband Tom at a mutual friend’s wedding at Bonterra and my life has been a wonderfully romantic whirlwind every since. In fact, while we were married out of town, we had a big party after our wedding at Bonterra. Many couple in Charlotte have weddings, rehearsal dinners and big engagement parties at Bonterra. The historic building, refurbished and owned by John “JD” Duncan, was once an old church and simple has an air of romance about it. The dining room offers open seating at tables for 2 to 8 and can accommodate larger parties as well.

The NC cheese plate with Bonterra's hummus and olives along with offerings from Goat Lady Dairy, Chapel Hill Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery paired with 1 or 2 of the 200 wines by the glass is a great way to start an evening at Bonterra

The NC cheese plate with Bonterra’s hummus and olives along with offerings from Goat Lady Dairy, Chapel Hill Creamery and Looking Glass Creamery paired with 1 or 2 of the 200 wines by the glass is a great way to start an evening at Bonterra

Seating at the bar as well with over 200 outstanding wines offered by the bottle and by the glass. Its fun and romantic to each order a different by-the-glass pour and then share sips along with something from the bar bite menu or a cheese tray before dinner. The bottle of Robert Foley Petit Syrah is one of our favorites and I included it in the photo as a shout out to our good friend Bob Foley, winemaker extraordinaire!

With small tables au deux tucked in the alcoves, a  private balcony upstairs and a wine cellar downstairs for private dinners there are plenty of places to sit snuggled away from the main dining area if you would like a bit of privacy while you dine.

Coming soon at Bonterraa “Girls Night Out” wine dinner on Wednesday Feb 5 featuring Ponzi Wines; regular bar specials each night; and a Thursday night wine dinner as a part of the upcoming Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend in April.

Bonterra Dining and Wine Room is located at 1829 Cleveland Ave. at East Worthington Ave.  Reservations: 704-333-WINE(9463).   Bar opens at 4:30 pm Monday-Saturday The Restaurant opens for dinner at 5:30 pm Monday-Saturday. For more info and to get on Bonterra’s newsletter list, visit www.BonterraDining.com  Bonterra on Urbanspoon

The McNinch House in Charlotte's historic Fourth Ward

The McNinch House in Charlotte’s historic Fourth Ward

Next up, for a romantic evening on the town, the McNinch House Restaurant. Located in Charlotte’s Historic Fourth Ward neighborhood, this Victorian-era house was originally home to  Charlotte Mayor Sam McNinch; now for the past 22 years it has been the McNinch House Restaurant.

Each table at McNinch is set with antique china, crystal and silver

Each table at McNinch is set with antique china, crystal and silver

Beautifully appointed, the home is owned by Ellen Davis, a front runner on Charlotte’s ever growing culinary landscape. McNinch House recently won its 16th consecutive Four Diamond designation from AAA, is listed as one of the top “extraordinary” restaurants in America by Zagat’s Dining Guide. Davis was Charlotte’s original street vendor,  back in the late 1980′s early 1990′s as she sold hotdogs from a cart while the house was being renovated to become a restaurant on the main floor with her private residence on the floor above.

Rack of lamb with mushroom risotto from McNinch's Chef William Parham

Rack of lamb with mushroom risotto, one of McNinch’s most popular entrees, from McNinch’s Chef William Parham

There are no menus at the McNinch House. When you make a reservation, you order your entrée on the phone and then the rest of the meal is built around your selection using seasonal produce and proteins.

The restaurant offers several selections of prix fixe menus: A classic 7-course  menu which includes appetizer, soup, salad, sorbet, entrée, cheese and dessert for $99 per person ( plus beverages, tax and gratuity) or a 5-course  menu at $79 per person ++.

For Valentine’s they are offering an  all-inclusive package for two with a 6-course chef’s menu with wine pairings, for $450 per couple

McNinch House Restaurant is located in uptown Charlotte  at 511  N. Church St.  Phone:  704-332-6159. Open Tuesday – Saturday Reservations Required.  Seatings available  Tuesday-Thursday On the half-hour, 5:30 pm-8 pm;  Friday-Saturday On the Hour    5:30 pm-8 pm.  For more information visit, www.mcninchhouserestaurant.com McNinch House on Urbanspoon

Zebra 2My third suggestion for Valentine wining and dining is Zebra Restaurant in the SouthPark area.  Zebra offers fine continental cuisine with French influences. Since Inception, Zebra has been recognized with numerous honors and awards of distinction.  including OpenTable Diners Choice, Zagat Best Restaurant, Wine Spectator Magazine Award of Excellence, and AAA Four Diamonds for eleven consecutive years.

With two adjacent dining rooms the restaurant also offers seating in a small intimate room off the bar  and when weather permits out on the beautiful, newly decorated patio. Owned by Chef Jim Alexander, Zebra serves breakfast lunch and dinner, is a great spot not only for romance but for the corporate breakfast and lunch crowd as well; and in addition Zebra is hosting several monthly wine dinners in the next several months. Zebra also offers on and off site catering for private parties and events – call the restaurant for details.

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

The signature salad from Zebra Restaurant

In the Charlotte Today  segment we featured Alexander’s signature salad at Zebra - a delightful presentation that will make your sweetie smile! Zebra sous chef Chris Wriggle gave me a quick tutorial on how to put it together and I believe I did Zebra proud. Local organic greens gathered in a tuille vase, dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette and  honey Dijon and finished with a garnish of local Tega Hills Farm’s micro greens. As delicious as it is beautiful.

Entertainment at Zebra – music always sets the mood for romance; so its nice to know that on most Friday nights in February, Zebra features live guitar music in the bar with a bar bites menu and tasty $12 wine flights. This month guitarist Harry Bell  performs on Friday Feb 7; and my favorite musician in town, Tom Billotto on guitar and vocals on Friday Feb 21 and Friday Feb 28 from 6-8 or 9 pm. if I am not working, I am usually in the crowd - the official groupie in the room – so I hope to see you there!

On Wednesday February 19, 2014 come to Zebra and enjoy a four course wine dinner featuring SCHWEIGER Vineyards.  The evening starts with an hors d’oeuvre reception followed by a four course dinner with wine pairings for just $75 per person ++.  RESERVATIONS REQUIRED, 704-442-9525

Zebra is located at 4521 Sharon Road, across from SouthPark Mall. For reservations and gift certificates, please call 704-442-9525. For more information visit www.zebrarestaurant.net Zebra Restaurant and Fine Catering on Urbanspoon

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

The Dunhill Hotel in Uptown Charlotte

Fourth on my list of six is  a new restaurant run by a very talented long time Charlotte chef. After making a name for himself and honing is own sophisticated Southern style at The McNinch House,

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman

Chef Chris Coleman is now the executive chef and director of food and beverage for The Asbury at The Dunhill Hotel. Named in honor of Louis Asbury, Sr., the Charlotte architect who designed the Mayfair Manor—now The Dunhill Hotel—in 1929, The Asbury celebrates the best of what the South has to offer in ingredients, technique, creativity, and, of course, hospitality. The Asbury is a tribute to Chef Coleman’s southern roots and the culturally diverse community of the New South from which he draws inspiration.

Cheers to The Dunhill's bartender Pete Ladino who makes you feel right at home

Cheers to The Dunhill’s bartender Pete Ladino who makes you feel right at home

What could be more romantic? Its a fabulous hotel dining experience where you can whisk your Valentine away after dinner and maybe a nightcap a the bar to a hotel room right upstairs if you’ve got  a mind; and then go and enjoy the restaurant all over again with room service or breakfast downstairs in the morning. In fact, with a great baby sitter and tickets to a show or concert uptown  you could make it a one stop weekend for Valentine romance!

The Asbury boasts a wonderful little bar where bartender Pete Ladino  makes everyone feel right at home.  Go old school and enjoy a cocktail or  sip on a glass of wine and preview the cuisine with something from the bar bites offerings.  Once seated for dinner, you’ll be wowed with Chris’ eclectic Southern menu in the restaurant featuring as much local product as Chris can source.  And then be prepared to be blown away by the talent that is Asbury pastry chef Patty Greene.   Unable to select just one, I featured two of Patty’s desserts on the show – first a unique take on raspberry cheesecake and then a chocolate espresso cake, my oh my!

Patty Greene's chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s chocolate Espresso cake at The Asbury

Patty Greene's raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

Patty Greene’s raspberry cheesecake at The Asbury

The Asbury serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.  In addition to the ground floor restaurant space, The Asbury caters unique, private dining experiences and hosts special events throughout its intimate second floor   Located in The Dunhill at 235 N. Tryon Street, the parking entrance for The Asbury and the hotel is just off 6th street. Call 704-342-1193 for dinner reservations or more info. For room reservations at The Dunhill call 704-332-4141 or visit www.TheDunhillHotel.com  The Asbury on Urbanspoon

Fifth up, another newbie for Charlotte diners from a much loved and admired chef – Bruce Moffett’s newest jewel in the Moffett Restaurant Group triple crown – Stagioni! After much success with Barringtons and Good Food on Montford Moffett opened Stagioni about a month ago now to rave reviews. The menu is decidedly Italian, with an all Italian wine list of delicious pours.  Moffett and his team lead by executive chef Larry Schreiber have kept true to traditional Italian recipes like porchetta, arrancini, homemade pasta, and wood-oven baked pizza but have  put their own little twist on things here and there.

A tray of Stagioni's snacks and spreads for the two of you to share

A tray of Stagioni’s snacks and spreads for the two of you to share

The menu at Stagioni – “four seasons of food”, is of course, seasonal; and as I have eaten my way through winter I cannot wait to see what’s in store for spring. For the Valentine segment, we features a board of Stagioni’s snacks and spreads, such as fava bean  spread, liver pate, puree of cauliflower with truffles, stuffed peppadew peppers, tapenade and more with flat bread toasts and delicious fried chicken skin “chips” - perfect for the two of you to share while you make your dinner choices.

The historic house was once home to  Blanche Reynolds-Gourmajenko who loved to entertain and the villa traditionally served as a grand place for people to gather at the parties and dinners Blanche hosted.  They say that Blanche loved the home so  much that she hasn’t left and her spirit haunts the estate.

Banche Reynolds -

Banche Reynolds-Gourmajenko

All I can say is that Blanche must be very happy having people gather round the tables in her home once again surrounded by good food and drink.  The softly lit small bar and dining room with open kitchen and seating in front of the wood burning pizza oven are all beautifully designed to keep the integrity of the original home, while offering a modern spin on dining out.

Stagioni is located at 715 Providence Rd. in the Eastover neighborhood. Call 704.372.8110 for reservations. For more information about the menu, the history of the home and links to Barrington’s and Good Food on Monford, Stagioni’s sister restaurants, visit http://stagioniclt.com/  Stagioni on Urbanspoon

passion 8Finally, the last of these six romantic dining spots, Passion 8 Bistro – the name says it all. A place that is passionate about local farms, food, and service. Owned by chef Luca Annunziata and his lovely wife Jessica, Passion 8 Bistro has plans to soon move from its tiny home in Ft. Mill to bigger newer but every bit as romantic, digs in Charlotte on Elizabeth Ave.  The group is still waiting for permits and construction to be finalized, but until the move Chef Luca and his culinary team Chef Matthew Krenz and chef Evan Micek, are still cooking up a storm in Ft. Mill, serving an all market menu every evening,  supporting nearly 50 local farms in North and South Carolina.

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

A scallop starter from the Valentine menu at Passion 8 Bistro

Get caught up in the passion this Valentine’s Day with a special prix fixe Valentine’s Day Dinner menu Friday, February 14th from 5:00pm to 10:00pm; 4 courses with choices for each course. $140 per couple. make your reservations now by calling 803-802-7455. For the Charlotte Today segment we shared one of the first plates from the Valentine menu - a perfectly seared scallop atop a rounded cake of grits, topped with a red cabbage slaw, crispy pancetta and Tega Hills Farm micro greens surrounded by a pool of Charon sauce – a béchamel flavored with tomato.

If you and your sweetheart enjoy cooking together, then start sharing the passion this weekend at a special Valentine’s cooking class at Passion 8 -Saturday, February 8th from 11:00am to 2:00pm  3 courses for $75 per couple with a champagne toast.

from left, chefs Evan Micek, chef Matthew Krenz and chef Luca Annunziata make their Food Network debut on Feb 19 at 9 pm

from left, chefs Evan Micek, chef Matthew Krenz and chef Luca Annunziata make their Food Network debut on Feb 19 at 9 pm

On the Charlotte Today segment I announced that Passion 8 would be featured on a new Food Network show  – Buy This Restaurant – to air Monday Feb 3. My mistake – the show premiered on Monday, but the Passion 8 segment actually airs on Wednesday, February 19th at 9:00pm on the Food Network    http://www.foodnetwork.com/shows/buy-this-restaurant.html   Don’t miss it!

Meanwhile, to make your reservations at Passion8 Bistro simply call the restaurant at 803-802-7455. Passion 8 is currently located at 3415 Hwy. 51 North – just three miles past the tiny historic downtown of Pineville, NC. For more information, visit http://www.passion8bistro.com/ Passion8 Bistro on Urbanspoon

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Cheers to the February Romantic Restaurant segment

Now, that you’ve read all about it,  click here to watch the video from my Valentine segment on Charlotte Today. I’ll be back for my monthly cooking segment on Charlotte Today on Thursday Feb 13, Channel 36 – 6 on cable –  with three great Valentine recipes for Fondue au Deux! See you then! Cheers!